Stop Letting Boys “Be Boys”

Every so often, someone sends me an article blaming feminism for the destruction of our society, and a major complaint in these articles is that young men are refusing to grow up because of feminism.  I’m still waiting for a link story that makes sense.  I’ve talked about this multiple times before, but I think it’s time to go a step further than just defending feminism and saying it’s not our fault.  I don’t think it is, but I think there is a problem here.  The question I want you to start asking yourself is this: why is it that young men don’t seem to want to take responsibility for their lives?

I think the problem lies in the idea that “boys will be boys”.  When your actions are excused from a young age, and you are never made to see that you are truly accountable for your actions, how are you supposed to internalize that sense of responsibility?  This isn’t new, and it’s not a result of feminism-~-in fact, it’s the very thing feminism opposes.  We say that boys will be boys, and we write off teasing and bullying on the playground, young men being mean to young women, young men fighting and acting reckless, young men lazing around their houses.  We tell young women that boys will be boys and they should just brace themselves-~-that it’s normal that boys will pressure them sexually, that it’s up to them to protect themselves, that boys can’t control themselves so they need to cover up and never let loose, because if something happens, boys were just being boys and it’s the girl’s own fault.  Doesn’t sound familiar?  We see this all the time in sexual assault cases, in date rape cases, when little girls get pushed on the playground, when boys are mean to their sisters.  We teach little girls that they should accept this.  I’ve talked about this here and here as well.

There’s obviously more to it than just “boys being boys”.  Today’s young men came of age during a major economic recession that has made it difficult to find full-time, meaningful work.  Millennials in general are likely to be overworked and under-payed.  If young men can’t support families, it’s not just by choice, it’s because of an economic environment that has made it increasingly difficult.  Young people are graduating college weighed down by student loans that keep them trapped in debt that they need to dig themselves out from under, which in some cases prevents them from having important life experiences or further investing in themselves, because they need to be able to address their own financial burdens.  Young men are also growing up in a culture that glorifies sexual conquest at the expense of committed relationships, and while feminism may have said that it is equally alright for women to engage in sex as they see fit, and that women ought not be shamed for it, feminism has never discouraged the development of meaningful, long-term relationships, and the idea that feminism has done so appears to me to be unfounded.  Accepting that people’s sexualities are important to their identities is not a discouragement of commitment; in contrast, young men are told they shouldn’t be “tied down”, that they need to “play the field”, and that sexual prowess is a major marker of masculinity.  It’s really no wonder that, growing up in that kind of culture, we are seeing the kinds of patterns that we do.

The funny thing is, these posts that blame feminism don’t seem to care about the circumstances in which men make the choices they do.  But I think that’s the major problem: men are making these choices in an environment that isn’t necessarily conducive to or encouraging of commitment and responsibility.  They’re not making these choices in a social atmosphere that demands accountability, and if that’s the case, there’s no reason to settle down, there’s no reason to grow up.  We need to change the narrative of masculinity from one that emphasizes conquest and strength, to one that emphasizes reason and responsibility.  We need to stop letting boys be boys, and start demanding that men be men.

Feminism has challenged a lot of these gender norms, but not in ways that have made excuses for men.  Just because men aren’t necessarily responsible for “taking care of their girls” doesn’t mean they don’t have responsibilities.   Yes, feminism has pushed for things like birth control and women’s access to education and the workplace which have delayed the age of marriage, but marriage isn’t the only form of commitment.  The implication that because people aren’t rushing down the aisle is the sole or primary reason behind protracted liminality seems shaky at best.  Living together is a significant commitment for couples, and it should be treated as such-~-we as a society need to stop acting like these other commitments are meaningless because they aren’t marriage, when in fact, they have real implications financially, emotionally, and socially for those who choose to undertake them.  If you want to blame feminism, you’ll have to do better.  Feminism in fact asks that men be willing to do more at home, be responsible for their children, treat their female partners with respect, and be better role models for young men in their lives.  Feminism asks that today’s men be willing to share the spotlight as well as the labor, and to stand next to women, instead of walking over them.

There are many things we need to address in order to reach a more equal society.  We need women taken more seriously, and we need to encourage women to dream bigger and aim higher in their careers.  We need to push for laws that challenge gender norms and treat all people as equal.  We need to encourage men to play a bigger role in domestic work and push employers to leave more doors open for women.  Most of all, we need to challenge our core conceptions of what femininity and masculinity entails.  Once we do that-~-once being a boy means playing fair and treating girls like they matter-~-then boys can be boys.  But until then, we need to stop making excuses and start demanding better.  Our men and women alike deserve that much.



~ by Randi Saunders on October 27, 2013.

2 Responses to “Stop Letting Boys “Be Boys””

  1. You are a patient soul for writing a well-written reply to some very hard-headed arguments. Blaming feminism for making boys lazy is just a continuation of scapegoating women for every flaw in the world. Now apparently, women are to blame for men’s character flaws, as well. Give me a break. If a woman who isn’t prosperous marries for financial security, she is called a gold digger and a user. Back when women did primarily housekeeping work, they weren’t respected or taken seriously by society for being cushy housewives. Now, people suddenly are up in arms that woman’s role in the home is vital to preserving family life and whatnot. And if a woman wants to pursue skilled jobs that help her become prosperous, she is responsible for making men lazy?? I don’t think so.

  2. Women demanding an even playing field somehow causes boys to have Peter Pan syndrome? Wow, I hadn’t heart that one. So, is the solution supposed to be that we all get busy again with our dust mops and blenders so that the poor wee fellows won’t feel threatened? Not likely!

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